Articles Posted in Plain Error

Sonya Wilbourn sued her doctor, Mark Cavalenes, for medical malpractice. Wilbourn claimed Cavalenes inserted the wrong size compression plate when he performed surgery on Wilbourn’s fractured femur.

The jury gave a verdict in favor of Dr. Cavalenes, Wilbourn then asked for a new trial, but the trial court refused. So Wilbourn appealed. Among her arguments to the appellate court, Wilbourn claimed she was denied a fair trial because of a prejudicial remark by the defense lawyer during his closing argument.

During his closing argument to the jury, Cavalenes’s attorney called Wilbourn’s attorney a “slick lawyer” who tried to twist Dr. Cavalenes’s words. Wilbourn argued that the remark amounted to “plain error.” But the First District Illinois Appellate Court ruled that the comment did not change the outcome of the trial, and affirmed the verdict.

In this trip and fall case, a customer, Matthews, sustained injuries when he tripped over a piece of metal that was jutting out of a fuel pump island at a gas station. The First District Illinois Appellate Court ruled on a few appellate issues. The two most significant have to do with the “plain error doctrine” and the requirement that each issue in an appeal must have its own statement of the standard of review.

After he was zeroed at trial, Matthews appealed. One of his arguments on appeal relied on the “plain error doctrine.” Matthews claimed that the trial judge made faulty and misleading statements to the jury. However, his attorney did not object when the statements were made. So on appeal, Matthews argued that the court’s statements were grounds for reversal because they constituted “plain error.”

The First District Appellate Court disagreed. The court stated that the use of the “plain error doctrine” in civil cases was “exceedingly rare.” “This doctrine is applied in civil cases only where the act complained of was a prejudicial error so egregious that it deprived the complaining party of a fair trial and substantially impaired the integrity of the judicial process itself.”

The use of psychotropic drugs again was at issue. The patient was admitted to the Elgin Mental Health Center after she was found to be unfit to stand trial for unauthorized use of a credit card. The patient was treated by Dr. Rosanova, who diagnosed schizophrenia and recommended use of phychotropic drugs.

The patient received an independent evaluation from a clinical psychologist, not a medical doctor. A chief preliminary issue was whether the patient timely demanded an independent evaluation by a physician. The court ruled that the patient’s actions in the trial court sufficiently defeated a waiver argument.

But the appellate court did not stop there. The court also ruled that the plain error doctrine — not often invoked in civil cases — overcame waiver. Here’s what the court said:

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